August 2017: Masfi Khan
Masfi Khan is a high school student from New York. She is the founder and editor-in-chief of For the Sonorous, a literary journal dedicated to empowering and publishing women of color and non-binary people of color. This summer, she will be a poetry mentor in the 2017 Sonorous Summer Writing Workshop. Her poetry has received national recognition from the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards, Smith College, Gannon University, and Columbia College Chicago. Her writing appears in (R)evolution: Girls Write Now 2016 Multimedia Anthology, Her Culture, The Rising Phoenix Review, and Eunoia Review. Currently, she serves as a poetry editor for Persephone's Daughters, a blog editor for Moledro Magazine, an editorial intern for The Blueshift Journal, and a prose reader for Glass Kite Anthology.
you are ten when a teacher says to untie
your bengali accent like an iron necklace.
you dream of a voice that slices oceans
like wind. of being an autumn-crisp american,
even if it means silencing the pulse
you’ve carried since birth.
you unhinge slanted vowels, punctured
consonants, swinging cadence from your larynx.
lodge borrowed syllables in their places.
bangla tumbles out of your mouth like baby teeth.
you translate bleeding gums as maturity,
instead of your history withering into a speck.
your first month in america, your mother
kept warm by humming bangla songs.
her voice dripped with superstition-strung folktales,
pithas during monsoons. day by day, her ache
for the self left behind swelled like a ghost.
your last name traces its lineage
to ancestors ancient before colonization.
you can’t wrench your mother tongue by its roots
without erasing yourself.
in a country where nothing belongs to you,
bangla is an heirloom, sacred and tender.
let it seep into your journey
from dhaka to new york & beyond.
these days, you dream your mother still croons,
her homeland engraved on skin.
you cling to her lilt like air.
(Forthcoming in the blog of Columbia College Chicago.)
A Conversation with Masfi Khan
Richa: Could you tell us more about your online magazine, For the Sonorous? What inspired you to start it?
Masfi: The initial concept of For the Sonorous was inspired by my interest in reading literary works that featured a variety of experiences, particularly those of marginalized groups. I wanted to read pieces that delved into the discomfort of being a minority, that included minority speakers and characters without the piece being overwhelmed with that one aspect of their identity, that expanded the layered and complex voices of marginalized people. After seeing how underrepresented such work is, I realized the necessity of recognizing literature by marginalized writers. It is this urgency that ultimately fuels For the Sonorous. I felt that there should be a platform that specifically showcased the powerful work of women and non-binary people of color since the intersection of racism and misogyny can make them hide facets of themselves. With a brilliant team of other writers and artists, I founded this literary journal in October 2016 with the intention of displaying diversity in writing and art. We want For the Sonorous to be a place for women and non-binary people of color to reclaim their narratives and amplify their voices, and we strive to foster a supportive community that encourages their artistic growth.
Richa: Your poem “Heirloom” contains a lot of cultural references. How do you usually infuse culture into your writing?
Masfi: Recently, I’ve been exploring what being a brown girl means to me through my poetry. As I reflect on the significance of my heritage on my identity, I try to grapple how different aspects of it collectively contribute to my experiences. For “Heirloom,” I focused on my memories related to specific parts of my culture and the emotions they stirred. I condensed the memories into images, making sure that the language aligned with the poem’s aesthetic and that their inclusion added on to the poem’s overarching purpose—understanding my lineage as I drift away from it. By inserting small details about my heritage into my poems, I strengthen my intimacy with my personal history.
Richa: What do you believe makes a poem memorable?
Masfi: To put it in broad terms, a poem is memorable when it evokes intense thought or feelings in the reader. While this is a fairly vague way of considering poetry, I try to be open-minded since poets crave and create different things through their poems. With that being said, there are typically a few things that make most poems striking. In particular, I’m drawn to pieces that form a connection with readers through the precision of the speaker’s voice. Whether the voice is confessional, ambiguous, or emotional, I feel that it’s impactful when it skillfully guides the poem’s perspective. I also admire images that are startling (in a way that fits the poem) as they offer original, refreshing ways to consider things and make the poem feel more tangible. I think of poems as testimonies to living, so it’s necessary for them to capture the nuances and truths of ourselves and the world. Ultimately, I find that poems are distinct when they are daring enough to shape their own direction.